I’m a child of technology. Well a 30 something child of technology then. I have the usual spread – an iPad, a smart phone, a MacBook Pro etc etc. And I love to read. So it made logical sense to me when I’m travelling that having my books on my iPad is a good thing. So I have lots of books downloaded onto my iPad. Easy to read, easy to store, battery runs long enough for me not to have to think about charging until I’m somewhere I can charge it.
Some say it’s the harbinger of doom for the printed word; these ereading gadgets. I think that’s inaccurate and short sighted. Nothing will replace the joy of walking into a bookshop with no particular place to be and just enjoying hours of browsing, maybe relaxing with a friend over a drink and discussing your current literary and not so literary interests. I like having books, I like touching books and I love the smell of a new book sitting in my hands. Even those second hand bookshop wares have a certain pre-loved scent to them, always inspiring that moment of wonder for me as I contemplate what kind of life this book has had and how many others have enjoyed it’s words?
I love the whole sense of anticipation that here in your hands is potentially another great adventure to get lost in, another fascinating look into a topic of science that compels your interest, an opportunity to learn how to cook better, a chance to explore another country and the possibility that you might discover another author with whom you fall in love with their writing so much so that you simply must gather every single tome by them. Laugh, cry, confound, astound, perplex, thrill, scare and ache with all your heart – these are the emotions that can be wrought by that well written book that engages you. So no matter how many downloaded books I ever own nothing will replace the experience of bookshop browsing and holding the book in your hands. They might on the other hand help me keep my book collecting ways under some semblance of control so that the books don’t outnumber the bookshelf space and the bookshelves don’t start forming their own city skylines. This is a good thing.
This actually wasn’t supposed to be a post about love of books and how technology will not be the death of the printed book. I actually was thinking more about the publishing industry itself. And my own reading habits. I read a lot of text online. Ranging from feature articles, editorials, opinion pieces and predominantly a lot of fan fiction. Fan fiction consistently just blows me away with the quality of the writing. And what astounds me is that I get to read such amazingly well written stories, that just have me completely absorbed, for free! Now I don’t know who these authors are, I’ve never met them, there’s no official bios on them and some I am sure already are in the writing business professionally, but the point is – they gain a following based on NOTHING but the strength of their writing. Sure other fan fiction readers might recommend them but within a paragraph or two readers easily discern the smoke blowin’ praises from the legitimate ones. I’ve read stories in several fandoms now – Smallville, Supernatural, Stargate, Fringe, Due South, Dexter and Sherlock. There are writers in their whose command of prose composition just makes me yearn to read more. And they are not making any kind of money off these works and yet I happened to check out some supposedly “best selling” works in the romance genre the other day and I was baffled as to how anyone even saw it worthy of using ink on let alone publishing and selling millions of the ‘novel’.
I get that the Harlequin romance has a fairly embedded structural features and language type but what I don’t get is how no matter which writer I seem to sample (from the most awarded to the most average – from the veteran writers of the genre to brand new to the scene ones) it all seems to be of the same very ordinary, very cliched and very formulaic quality. Why hasn’t the writing improved in this genre? Is it so formulaic that publishers won’t deviate from it? They have their market niche completely analysed and they know exactly what will and won’t sell?
I don’t know. All I know is that I was shocked that something described as a best seller (and perhaps I should find and clarify the parameters of such a phrase) was just so….8th grade standard. I would know. I’ve read 8th grade stories, the sentence structures didn’t vary too much. Now I’m thinking that as an English teacher marking 8th grade stories that perhaps my standards are too high? Expecting some originality, some unique style, some deviation from the expected, something that surprises me with how not formulaic it is.
I don’t think I’m a book snob either. I happily read what I call trashy fiction or even non-fiction if it entertains me. Bridget Jones’ Diary for example. Or Twilight. I’ll read Ellen Biographies. These are not the upper echelons of literary greatness and nor were they ever supposed to be. Your content doesn’t have to be serious or even realistic or of great import in any way shape or form. But it does need to use language well, have good sentence structure, it needs to use words to their best effect. None of the excerpts I read even came remotely close. I know this happens in all the genres. But not from those authors who are best sellers or who have been established in the genre a long time. There is development within the genre and you can see there are different standards. I have not found that in the Romance genre and I find that baffling as well as mildly unscrupulous. I’m pretty sure those best selling authors in the genre would know what good writing looks like, they would appreciate the turn of phrases chosen by Ann Rice versus Stephenie Meyer. They would have an understanding of what it looks like. I get the distinct impression that they’re quite happy to peddle their wares in the romance genre and call them brilliant examples of writing whilst sitting back laughing their asses to the bank as they get paid for what they truly know is at best very mediocre writing and at worst no better than an 8th grader’s composition. Of course you can detect a streak of envy in my tone – dammit why aren’t I making money the easy way by doing this but mostly it’s one of How could they? I guess if you have enough people telling you it’s great and you have the full endorsement of a big publishing company it’s probably pretty easy to let yourself just go with the flow.
Maybe I just need to look harder within the romance genre – perhaps I just haven’t looked enough and there really is some well written stories out there. For now I think I’ll go back to my fan fiction though. There is no doubt that there will be quality writing there for me to read about my favourite characters.